How We Create a Travel Show for Marketers: The Thinking Behind Unthinkable

There’s an old saying from an ancient Greek philosopher: “It’s pretty lazy to open an article with old sayings.”

(I’m not sure the source… ? )

In the marketing world today, we’re witnessing same trend with podcasting that we experienced during blogging’s rise to ubiquity years ago: sameness.

It’s not that “noise” is the problem, per se, it’s that copying “what works” from others often causes you to blend in. For instance, the world does not need YET ANOTHER show about marketing featuring two talking heads discussing “the trends, topics, and technologies markets care about.” And yet, we’ll see at least 25 more of those by years’ end, I’m sure of it.

So how do you stand out and get results in a world so full of sameness?

Be different.

Be the exception. Zig when others zag.

In my weekly show, Unthinkable, we tell the stories of people who have done exactly that. As the name of the series implies, the subjects have broken from conventional thinking. They’ve made the leap from producing average noise to crafting exceptional work.

But when you make stuff for makers as I do, your world gets pretty meta. So not only are we exploring individuals who strive to be the exception, we’re trying to make our show an exception too. At the very same time, I’m documenting others’ journeys and embarking on my own.

And it all started with two things: a bleeding heart, and a big idea. If you’re hoping to create something that breaks from the noise, I’d suggest you start there too.

The Bleeding Heart: What is the personal belief that drives you?

“Bleeding heart” sounds pretty intense, I know, but that’s the point: What is your most intense belief? What would you pursue at any cost?

My fiercest belief is that there’s something MORE to the work that we do. There’s something meaningful and personal behind it all.

I’ve always been fascinated by and enamored with those moments in the quiet, when you’re head-down doing your work, and something about the process causes you to geek out. It’s like a burst of energy hits you in your gut, causing you to nearly cackle out loud. As a writer, I’ve felt this when I think I’ve landed a joke, or I’ve woven an analogy into a piece, or I’ve ended an article using a surprising callback to a theme I used in the introduction.

Whatever the case, my driving force, my bleeding heart, is when others can look at me, or I can look at others, and simply say: “You’re doing you.”

That doesn’t mean you’re not inspired by others. Far from it — you can stand on the shoulders of giants. But the point is to stand on them to reach higher, not lean against them as a crutch. For example, longtime listeners will know that I’m inspired by the work of Anthony Bourdain. He’s a guy who finds the deeper meaning in every location he visits and interview he conducts. He often opens shows by saying, “Something unexpected is happening in this place.” His show is called “Parts Unknown,” and I actually don’t interpret those “parts” as physical places. I think the unknown is the nuance, complexity, or messy truth he reaches.

Those are the kind of places I aspire to reach in all my work.

The Big Idea: How can you apply that personal belief to someone else’s career, an industry, or a company?

When you create something, you serve yourself, but you also serve others. In doing so, the Big Idea can form.

The Big Idea is how my bleeding heart manifests in the world. It’s also temporary, unlike my bleeding heart — it’s the idea I’m pursuing right now, not the idea that defines who I am. If I’m to be successful (a long career doing what I love), then I’ll need to have many Big Ideas. Many will fail. Some will hit. Maybe one will be huge.

I hope it’s this one. (I’m gonna say that a lot…)

The Big Idea is also where my work moves from being internal to external. It’s now 1:many — or maybe 1:company. It’s about providing solutions, not just sharing beliefs.

So, if I so fiercely believe that there’s something more to this work that we do, what’s the Big Idea now?

Well, I think what prevents us from finding that “something more” is when we try to be “someone else.” And today, it’s incredibly tempting to attempt to do exactly that. We face enormous change and have access to the world’s information in seconds. Those two trends combine to make us feel like we’re at a constant information disadvantage. So to find an answer or execute our work, we can follow someone else’s list, ultimate guide, or yes, podcast. We can switch off that which makes us unique — the individual, the customer, the organization, the moment in time, the CONTEXT.

In this way, it has never been easier to be average.

My Big Idea is that we need to be exceptional, not average. Seems obvious, sure, but look closer: When you’re exceptional you are, by definition, an exception. You’re more you. You embrace the context. You ask, “What do I think?” or, “How does this apply to our brand?”

Don’t be average. Be exceptional. Be the exception.

The Research Vehicle: How can you launch, learn, and improve every week?

This is my show. My podcast is my research, conducted in public. Every week, I vet stories and aerate ideas. I get honest feedback from superfans — and quickly. And I prepare stories and frameworks each week that can go into any of my speeches, or the book, or the workshops.

Or a potential exclusive brand partnership. Or the documentary we create together. Or the series Netflix picks up. Or the network of shows I launch. Or…

Unthinkable is not a marketing show. It’s a travel show that happens to be about marketers.

1. We start with a location.

Where do we want to visit? In this case, it’s not a physical place but a mental one. What trend or topic or concept affects us in our work? Examples of recent and future episodes include: The Writing Process, and why we’re obsessed with finding the best one; Travel, and how it affects creativity; Personality, and what happens when an individual is allowed to shine through more fully in one’s marketing.

2. Next, we find a local.

Who is living this out? Who embodies our location? Who is struggling with or succeeding in this place? For the episode exploring the writing process, for instance, we talked to Justin Blackman, a copywriter at a global hotel brand.

3. Lastly, we find a guide.

Who can speak directly to the location? Who is an expert, or observer, of what’s happening here? Who can equip us with that valuable weapon or tool we need to continue on this journey? For the episode about Travel, releasing in mid-March, we talk to Carla Johnson, a prolific speaker and author whose work requires she travel about 60% of the time. She also speaks directly to creativity in her writing and speaking, making her the perfect guide to tell us more about how travel affects creativity.

4. We then execute the show using this rundown — a minute-by-minute understanding of the show’s structure.

Unthinkable is a travel show. I just happen to tell stories for marketers.

Each week, I go exploring. I don’t prescribe or preach. I want you to feel, but I don’t know what. I want to apply things to your work, but I don’t know how. That part is on you. You’ll find meaning in your own way.

I fiercely believe it.

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